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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 11 April 2021

'You've got the older players coming back and wondering, 'Am I being rested now or have I lost my place?''

Cillian O’Connor says Mayo’s new wave of youngsters have been a breath of fresh air for the squad.

Mayo’s Cillian O'Connor.
Mayo’s Cillian O'Connor.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AFTER THEIR STIRRING win over Galway, Mayo were brought crashing back down to ground when defeat to Tyrone sealed their relegation from Division 1. 

For the first time in 23 years, the Westerners will be plying their trade in the second tier next season.

Cillian O’Connor, who sat out the game in Castlebar due to a quad injury, says there’s “no point dwelling on” their relegation.

“[We'll have] a quick review and all eyes on Leitrim now,” he said. “There’s no time to be down about it.”

The condensed nature of the season means Mayo are straight into championship action this weekend.

“There were even positives to take,” he says of the Tyrone clash. “I know it was a bit of a topsy turvy game but still a fairly young team put up 1-19. Obviously conceded too much, way too much, but created plenty of chances but weren’t clinical enough. There are positives to be taken from both games. 

“You just have to take the good stuff and a few lessons from [Sunday] that cost us and then get ready for championship. It’s hard to believe it’s championship week already.”

O’Connor expects to be fit for the Connacht opener in Carrick-on-Shannon in what will be his first championship game for Mayo in 15 months.

“It was just a little bang on the quad and I was hoping to play against Tyrone, even after the Galway game. I had a bit of a run around on Saturday the day before just to clear it and it just wasn’t 100% right. 

“So then you have to toss it up, do I play or do I put myself forward to play and take a risk of aggravating something or do I rest and recover? I just went with the medical team and that was the call so it was a bit disappointing. 

“You’re only back one game and you’re missing the next one so it was annoying. Touch wood, it’s nothing serious. 

“I’d say if it was an old season you would have chanced it on Sunday and even if it flares up into a three or four week injury I’d probably be okay for the next one or whatever. I’ll take a week off training and I’ll have time to recover. 

“I was thinking if I’m not training Tuesday and Thursday this week I’m going to be out of the picture and some young lad will play well. So I needed to be 100% for this week. 

“Having said that, if I was fit to play the game I definitely would have played. That was the call that was made. The season is so strange now that a bad dead leg or a roll of an ankle you could miss the season.

“It’s the same for everybody, it’s interesting.”

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mark-moran-and-michael-oneill Mark Moran has quickly settled into senior inter-county football. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Despite their relegation, Mayo have been reinvigorated by some youthful exuberance in the panel. 

“It’s been the strongest turnover or changes of new blood in a few years. It’s been brilliant. It’s great when you see fresh, new faces stepping up. It’s the same with every team, they step in for a game or they come on as a sub and they show real potential and suddenly they clean someone in an A versus B game.

“You know in the dressing-room or in training that something is happening here. That guy is not just an impact sub or one for the future, he’s one for now. I think players are the first ones to know when that starts happening. 

“Then you’ve got the dynamic of the older players coming back and wondering am I being rested now or have I lost my place? That healthy competition is brilliant and it’s good craic as well for the squad.”

Rather than the usual 11 weeks it takes to run off the Connacht SFC, it will be completed in just three weekends this time around.

“You might win a game and if you’ve played really well individually or as a team, you’re back to training on Tuesday and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve four weeks to wait now until you get a crack at the next team’,” he says about the old format.

aib-gaa-all-ireland-senior-football-championship-launch Cillian O’Connor was speaking at AIB’s launch of the All-Ireland senior football championship. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Sometimes your momentum can stall or you don’t know whether should we be playing a challenge game now between these or should we just be playing A versus Bs.

“I’d definitely prefer, maybe not week on week but if you can play three or four championship games in Connacht over six weeks, I think that’s what people want. Supporters want games and players certainly would prefer games.”

Off the field, Mayo’s all-time leading scorer was involved in setting up a financial services recruitment firm just over a year ago.

It’s been a challenging time for all companies but the former primary school teacher says he’s enjoyed the switch to the business world.

“It’s been a change, it’s been something we were looking at for a while. In a way it’s been a welcome distraction too because it does take a lot of your focus, when you’re not training or in the gym, you can throw yourself into something.

“It’s definitely been something you’ve got to be all in when you’re at meetings or when you’re at work or when you’re trying to figure stuff out or increase our online presence, whatever it is. So in a way I probably think it’s been a good thing to make sure that off time is fully away from football.

“It’s been brilliant, it’s been a steep enough learning curve because you know my background is in education and I studied psychology but my colleagues [David Butler and Pat Hughes] would have had a background in the area so they’ve been a good sounding board for me.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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